A Hollywood man pleaded guilty on January 24th. to a federal criminal charge that he recklessly operated a drone that crashed into and damaged the fuselage of a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter.

Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

According to his plea agreement, on September 18, 2020, at approximately 12:18 a.m., Hernandez heard police vehicles driving near his residence and a police helicopter flying overhead. Curious about the commotion, Hernandez launched a drone that he owned toward the police activity and in the helicopter’s direction.

An LAPD helicopter operated by two police officers was flying towards a reported emergency at a pharmacy in Hollywood. As the helicopter approached the pharmacy, the pilot saw the drone and attempted to evade the unmanned aircraft.

Despite the evasive efforts, the drone stuck the helicopter, forcing the pilot to initiate an emergency landing. According to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in this case, “if the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”

LAPD officers located parts of the drone near the pharmacy and discovered a vehicle damaged by the drone as it fell from the sky. Further investigation, including a review of the drone’s camera and secure digital (SD) card, led to the identification of Hernandez as the drone’s operator, according to court documents.

United States District Judge George H. Wu scheduled an April 12 sentencing hearing, at which time Hernandez will face a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.

The investigation in this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the LAPD, with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration. This conviction is believed to be the nation’s first criminal conviction for the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Reema M. El-Amamy of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.

Source: United States Department of Justice

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